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Ethiopia: biotechnology for development.

INTRODUCTION

Diverse Ethiopian communities have been employing traditional biotechnologies to produce alcohols, beverages and foods such as Aragi, Bordie, Enjera, Katikala, Korefie, Qotcho, Senafitch, Taj and Tella, both at household and small-scale commercial levels. In fact, the use of small-scale traditional biotechnologies specialized in the production of alcohols and beverages continued, and have become major economic engines in Ethiopia. Traditional alcohol and beverage industries have played a vital role in facilitating the urbanization of many settlements during the last two centuries. As pioneers in practicing agriculture, animal husbandry and poultry, Ethiopians have been employing traditional plant and animal breeding and selection techniques for several thousand years. Apparently, their knowledge of these techniques provided us with the wealth of domesticated animals and plants that we have today. The fact that Ethiopia is designated as one of the Vavilov Centers of Diversity attests to the contributions of the ancestral communities in selecting, domesticating and conserving diverse species and a variety of crops.

As conventional biotechnologies, particularly conventional animal and plant-breeding and selection techniques, were widely used as major tools in increasing agricultural productivity, Ethiopia followed suit established the Institute of Agricultural Research (now called the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization, EARO) in 1966. Since then, this state-owned agricultural research organization has been carrying out conventional biotechnology researches to create improved seeds, fruits, livestock and poultry. Its research outcomes were being disseminated mainly to subsistence farmers and pastoralists for free or at very low cost. Its endeavours have not played a significant role in increasing Ethiopia's agricultural productivity, (1) probably because of the lack of commercially driven demands for such improvements. Developments in molecular biology and related fields since the 1960s gave rise to modern biotechnology. Unfortunately, despite the fact that modern biotechnology is becoming one of the most promising economic engines in several countries, Ethiopia made no substantial progress in introducing and developing modern biotechnology as an academic field and economic sector.

This article was initiated as a concept paper providing justifications to initiating biotechnology education and research and development (R&D) in one technology institute in Ethiopia. Data collection was made through visitations to three research institutions in the country and a review of official documents and literature. This article reports the scale and the nature of biotechnology activities in Ethiopia, and discusses the potential of modern biotechnology in promoting national development through its support of endeavours in agriculture, environmental management and rehabilitation, health care and industry/manufacturing. It also lists and discusses the key topics that need to be taken into account while introducing and developing modern biotechnology in Ethiopia.

NATIONAL BACKGROUND

Evidently, several developed nations in the Western hemisphere and the Asia-Pacific region are already benefiting significantly from modern biotechnology. According to some estimates, the global market size will be in the trillions of dollars by 2010. (2) Unfortunately, the majority of the developing countries have very little, if any, access to this emerging economic sector. (3) The situation in Africa is even more dismal. A group of experts convened at the United Nations Conference Center of the Economic Commission for Africa (Addis Ababa) in July 2002, and discussed the status, limits and potential as well as the directions to develop biotechnology in Africa. They noted that with the exception of South Africa, other nations perform very limited or no tangible activities in modern biotechnology. (4) Having presented this very brief global background, the status of biotechnology activities in Ethiopia is provided as follows:

Policy and strategy issues

Amid the priority sectoral programmes of the 1993 National Science and Technology Policy, the knowledge and tools of biotechnology and the life sciences that are required were improving agricultural systems and productivity, natural resources management and environmental protection, health-care services, and industrial practices and the quality of the produce in Ethiopia. (5) In fact, the S&T Policy recognized biotechnology as an emerging tool to augment the efforts in the priority sectors and programmes, thus including the Governments' readiness to promote and coordinate biotechnology activities. Unfortunately, the strategies and initiatives planned in the 1993 S&T Policy were not fully implemented. Hence, it was subjected to revision, and a draft National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy document was completed in 2006. (6) The draft Policy document, as well, encourages basic and applied research in biotechnology to advance knowledge and technology-led development in the country. However, in both cases, biotechnology--as an academic discipline and economic sector was not given strong emphasis.

The EARO can be regarded as the only R&D institute initiating tangible activities in biotechnology. The EARO developed a 20-year Agricultural Biotechnology Research Strategy in July 2000. (1) As its previous endeavours did not yield significant contributions to agriculture and agricultural productivity, the EARO's 2000 document argued that the need for the introduction and development of advanced technologies was apparent. Consequently, the Strategy paper identified three areas of R&D (that is animal, microbial and plant biotechnology) to support the Agricultural Development-led Industrialization strategy of Ethiopia. It includes lists of objectives, strategies, expected short-, medium- and long-term outputs, and the beneficiaries of the outputs. Two of the strategies to utilize biotechnology to foster economic growth were through (a) capacity building in terms of human resources and facilities; and (b) the development of a national biotechnology policy. The EARO produced a follow-up document in 2004, entitled 'Agricultural Biotechnology Research Program--Research Directory', highlighting the progress made in agricultural biotechnology and demonstrating future priority areas and challenges. (7)

In 2002, a very brief National Biotechnology Policy and Strategy document (six pages on A4 paper) was produced, reiterating the potential of biotechnology indicated in the EARO's 2000 Agricultural Biotechnology Research Strategy. (8) The National Policy and Strategy was developed to (a) improve the knowledge base of biotechnology; (b) utilize biotechnology in national development; (c) develop national capacity in various areas of competence; and (d) develop appropriate biosafety principles, guidelines and regulations. Thus, the Policy aspired to improve the living standards of Ethiopians by overcoming socio-economic and environmental problems through the development and utilization of biotechnology safely. Furthermore, it assured that the Government would take a list of measures to promote the development of biotechnology in the country: namely, (a) ensure the coordination and networking of biotechnology R&D activities in different institutions; (b) allocate adequate budget for the development and application of the technology; (c) establish national biosafety guidelines and regulations; (d) develop appropriate legal protection systems to foster inventions, innovations, knowledge and practices in biotechnology; and (e) promote and support biotechnology R&D. Also, the document listed 17 strategies and 38 sectoral (agriculture, environment, health and industry), cross-sectoral and collaborative indicative programmes to achieve the objective of the policy. Arguably, the list of the indicative programmes can be considered extensive, touching many aspects of biotechnology and life sciences.

Nonetheless, compared to biotechnology policies and strategies of other nations, Ethiopia's Biotechnology Policy and Strategy is so brief that (a) no directions and mechanisms of achieving the objectives were given; and (b) no responsible body was identified to oversee the sector. Moreover, the writer of this article suspects that the Policy and Strategy document was not properly communicated to the stakeholders who were supposed to carry out the 38 activities listed in the sectoral, cross-sectoral and collaborative programmes. It reveals no evidence of the exhaustive involvement of experts in its formation either. Thus, it becomes imperative that a comprehensive national policy and strategy need to be in place, which would enable all stakeholders working in biotechnology education, R&D and business see the sector through the same spectacle. In the absence of comprehensive policy and strategy addressing national priorities, capabilities and potential, and showing clear and detailed strategies and directions, isolated biotechnology activities cannot yield significant contribution.

The Federal Environmental Protection Authority completed a draft National Biosafety Framework (NBF) in August 2007 after gruelling for 5 years through the financial assistance from the Global Environment Fund. The draft NBF includes policy, and legal, administrative and technical instruments that ensure adequate level of safety in transfer, development, handling and use of GMOs and their products that come from modern biotechnology. (9) However, there is no new development with regard to getting the draft NBF and the National Biosafety Law annexed in it enacted. As Ethiopia would inevitably embrace modern biotechnology sooner or later, it would be wise to get into it quickly and rightly.

R&D activities

Conventional biotechnology research as related to animal and plant breeding and selection, artificial insemination, multiple ovulation and in vitro transfer, vegetative and micropropagation, and tissue culture techniques, as well as biochemical, genetic, immunological and molecular studies of medicinal plants, livestock and microorganisms of interest by using basic biotechnology techniques and tools such as ELISA, PCR and sequencing were being carved out in the various research institutions, universities and colleges. Nevertheless, advanced biotechnology researches using recombinant DNA, cell fusion, cloning and other similar technologies are not available. As the research institutes are public institutes or striving to serve the public, the outputs of their activities (knowledge, tools and techniques) are used for the public interest. Research and other activities of the major research institutes in the country are briefly provided below.

Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization Relatively speaking, the Ethiopian agricultural research system is better organized, staffed and funded than any other sector. According to a 2004 report, there were 1142 (7.80 per cent PhD, 34.40 per cent MSc, 2.40 per cent DMV and 55.40 per cent BA/BSc) staff members working in Federal and Regional agricultural research centres. (10) Nonetheless, there were only 16 full-time (2 PhD, 3 MSc and 13 BSc) and four part-time (2 PhD, 1 MSc and 1 BSc) biotechnology researchers by May 2004. According to a 2006 report, about 30 researchers were involved in biotechnology research. (11)

Many of EARO's biotechnology researches are confined to conventional ones. The works include tissue culture techniques of virus-free potato varieties; somatic embryo regeneration techniques for coffee, false banana and banana; regeneration through callusing of Tef (Eragrostis tef); in vitro propagation of spices, medicinal and oil plants; double haploid breeding of mustard, rape seed and barley; embryo transfer technology; multiple ovulation and embryo transfer; and microbial inoculums selection; and molecular characterization of soybean, grass pea and field peas. In 2004/2005, there were nine tissue culture, two haploid culture, one multiple ovulation and embryo transfer, five biofertilizers and one microbial systematics researches running. According to the 2004 EARO document, the only research that employs techniques and tools of modern biotechnology is the Tef Improvement Program, being conducted in collaboration with Texas Tech and Cornell universities. (7)

It has been over 8 years since the formulation of the 2000 EARO Agricultural Biotechnology Research Strategy. The important accomplishment so far is the establishment of modern biotechnology research laboratory in Holeta Agricultural Research Centre. Moreover, 10 regional laboratories are upgraded to host tissue culture and other biotechnology research activities. However, the progress in terms of manpower development is not promising.

National Veterinary Research Institute

The National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI) is a relatively well equipped and well staffed to carry out research in vaccine development. It produces vaccines against several animal diseases such as anthrax, black leg, contagious bovine and caprine pleuropneumonia, foot-and-mouth, Newcastle disease, rinderpest and sheep pox. This institute undertakes some research to develop animal diagnostic, preventative, and treatment tools and techniques by using the knowledge, techniques and tools of modern biotechnology such as DNA probes and immunoblotting. Biotechnology-related animal breeding techniques undertaken by the institute are conventional (for example artificial insemination, multiple ovulation and embryo transfer). (11) Another veterinary facility is being constructed by the Federal Ministry of Health within the premises of the Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute (EHNRI) to work on vaccine development, like rabies virus vaccine. Nonetheless, the quality and standard of the veterinary education is not well adapted to the needs of the country. (12)

Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute

The EHNRI is one of the two institutes that conduct research on human health, the other being the Armauer Hansen Research Institute (AHRI). The EHNRI conducts research on health, nutrition and traditional medicinal plants, and provides referral diagnostic services. It includes several centres and labs, namely, (a) the Center for Disease Control (with several routine and research labs); (b) Veterinary Facility; (c) Department of Drug Research (Medicinal Plants); (d) Nutrition Research Center; and (e) Parasitology, Rapid Test and TB laboratories. They are provided with many basic and advanced life science and biotechnology tools, and they are also carrying out biochemical and biotechnology studies related to health and nutrition. However, some researchers at the institute reveal that the output from its activities is quite limited, for a very limited number of researchers are working in the institute.

Armauer Hansen Research Institute

The AHRI was established with the support of the governments of Sweden and Denmark, four decades ago as an international biomedical research facility to study the immunology of leprosy. Currently, AHRI works on Mycobacterium, Leishmania, as well as Papilloma and Hepatitis C viruses, using molecular, biochemical and biotechnology techniques and tools. It also offers courses and provides research facilities to graduate students and researchers from neighbouring universities and colleges. It possesses some modern biotechnology equipment and facilities. In 2005, the institute had five senior scientists, seven research assistants and two fellowship positions. (13) Between 1995 and 2006, the AHRI and its collaborators published over 120 articles. (14) Unfortunately, like EHNRI, AHRI has difficulty attracting and retaining experienced researchers; thus, it is essential that these and other institutions devise schemes to attract and retain experienced researchers.

Teaching and research universities, colleges and institutions

Teaching institutions that run graduate programs in life science (for example Addis Ababa University (AAU), Haromaya University) undertake studies employing conventional and advanced biotechnology tools and techniques. Professors and graduate students in the Department of Biology at AAU carry out micro-propagation, tissue culture, genetic and molecular characterization, marker-assisted selection, wild crosses, molecular phenology and protoplast fusion studies. (15) Characterization of active ingredients of medicinal plants is also conducted by researchers in the departments of Biology and Chemistry, Faculty of Medicine, and Aklilu Lemma Institute of Pathobiology of the AAU. Studies that involve conventional animal and plant biotechnologies are carved out in various universities and colleges (for example Ambo, Hawassa, Jimma, Wondo Genet). The Institute of Biodiversity Conservation characterizes indigenous accessions of crops by using isozyme markers. (15)

Regional research and collaboration facilities

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in collaboration with its partners commits to carry our research activities on livestock by using biotechnology tools and techniques that address the needs of developing countries. So far, the ILRI produced new/improved vaccines and diagnostic tools, and characterized, quantified and mapped the phenotypic and genetic diversity in Animal Genetic Resources for livestock conservation and use. It also established breeding and conservation programmes to enhance productivity and adaptation of livestock, and also provided capacity building to strategic partners to undertake R&D by using conventional and modern biotechnologies in animal health and genetics. (16) Apparently, this Institute's works, like those of the state-owned research initiations, are not commercially driven.

Two other regional facilities involved in promoting national biotechnology capacity are the East African Regional Networking for bioscience (Bio-EARN) and the Biosciences for East and Central Africa (BECA). The Bio-EARN--a program initiated in 1998 to build capacity in biotechnology research, biosafety and biopolicy in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda--has so far provided PhD training to several candidates to lay the groundwork for establishing regional centre of excellence in the biosciences. The BECA initiated to advance agricultural development for food security and economic growth as part of the New Partnership for African Development initiative, located on the Nairobi ILRI campus--provides research facilities and support, and facilitates cooperation and experience-sharing among researchers and institutions in East and Central Africa.

THE NEED FOR MODERN BIOTECHNOLOGY IN ETHIOPIA

Many nations undertake periodic evaluations of their biotechnology sector and introduce various policy and strategy frameworks and provisions to advance it. Interestingly, biotechnology policy and strategy documents rarely fail to stress how tembly the respective countries are lagging in the sector. For instance, Japan is the second nation in the world in biotechnology. Its 2002 Strategy Council wrote the following statement, arguing for an aggressive development of the sector (17):
   ... nations throughout the world are
   doing a great deal to strengthen their
   positions in the biotech arena. In this
   context, it would be wrong to boast that
   Japan has already established a firm lead.
   On the contrary, one cannot help but
   note that there are a number of areas in
   which we are actually lagging behind. If
   we do not make every effort to strengthen
   our biotech initiatives at a national level,
   Japan runs the risk of being left behind
   in the most significant scientific and
   technological advances of the twenty-first
   Century.The danger is that we could fail
   back in terms of improvements to our
   citizens' standard of living, and that the
   foundations of many of our industries
   might suffer blows large enough for them
   to start to crumble. If we do not face this
   possibility head-on, we run the risk of
   having a major bill to pay sometime in
   our future (p. 4).


The statement is a reminder of a famous Ethiopian proverb that loosely translates as 'the one who failed to carry some regretted, so did the one who failed to carry more'. That is what could have been said about African nations, including Ethiopia, that are sluggish in their biotechnology activities.

The global development of the biotechnology sector is progressing at an extremely swift rate. Stakeholders of biotechnology around the world are becoming confident enough to declare its potential to radically boost the world economy. (18,19) Recent reports showed the enormous contribution of the sector to the economies of several countries. (20,21)

Biotechnology policies and strategies of several nations strive to address issues related to lifestyle of citizenry (that is health, lifespan, nutrition and environment), national economy, competition among nations and safety/ethics. (2,17,19,22) The issues are perfectly relevant to Ethiopia. Nations place strong emphasis on their strengths when initiating the development of biotechnology. Moreover, they look into their priorities and potential when developing policies, strategies and other provisions to exploit the sector.

The potential contributions of modern biotechnology in the priority sectors are discussed below. Having a well-developed biotechnology sector to advance the production systems of various industries and economic sectors has a compounding effect. Biotechnology increases the competitiveness and profitability of various industries and economic sectors. It also leads to the birth of uniquely new industries. Biotech-related industries are knowledge-intensive, resource sparing and high value-added, providing high revenues and employment opportunities. (17) Therefore, endowing oneself with highly educated and skilled human resources to exploit the potential of biotechnology creates new investment and employment opportunities. The presence of highly educated and skilled R&D personnel attracts outsourced researches, partnerships and biotech joint-venture businesses. Hence, the potential contributions of biotechnology in the priority sectors have to be seen from these perspectives.

Biotechnology in agriculture

Agricultural biotechnology ranges from traditional animal and plant breeding and selection procedures to sophisticated genetic engineering techniques. It benefits all stakeholders in the agricultural economic sector: farmers, producers and consumers. The introduction of modern biotechnology to Ethiopia's agriculture--the prime economic sector--would be both a necessity and a smart move. The replacement of Ethiopia's subsistence agriculture with a market-driven one is becoming inevitable. Moreover, agriculture will remain to be the pivotal national economic sector. These, in turn, compel us to massively use high-yielding hybrid crops and agricultural inputs (especially agrochemicals) at the cost of damaging/ disrupting Ethiopia's agroecosystems. (The damage already done because of the use of agrochemicals should not be underestimated.) Fortunately, there is a good deal of chance to avoid the risk of further damaging the agroecosystems. Agricultural biotechnology has the potential to modify crops to flourish with least amount of agrochemicals and produce maximum yield.

Subsistence agriculture, run through traditional farming techniques and tools, has been the leading economic sector. This practice left Ethiopian farmlands (especially in the highlands) severely degraded. As Ethiopian highlands are the most populated regions of the country, traditional farmland rehabilitation can hardly be practiced, compounding the problem of land degradation. The global climate change exacerbates the problem further. In this case too, agricultural biotechnology has the potential to (a) produce crops that flourish in degraded lands; (b) increase crop production per unit area so that vast acres of degraded farmlands can be left for natural and traditional rehabilitation; and (c) produce crops that flourish in harsher meteorological conditions. Therefore, the introduction of modern biotechnology to agriculture becomes a necessity.

Ethiopia is endowed with myriads of crop varieties. The genetic diversity of these varieties can be the source of genes that produce traits capable of withstanding certain problems. Many of us are aware of the fact that barley yellow dwarf (BYD) virus resistant gene (Yd2) from Ethiopian barley (23,24) is helping US farmers save hundreds of millions of dollars each year. A recent study with barley accessions from USDA-ARS National Small Grain Collection showed that collections from East Africa, mostly from Ethiopia, revealed resistance to net blotch, spot blotch and stripe rust (SR). This study showed that Ethiopia is a centre of concentration of BYD and SR-resistant strains. (25) This signifies that extensive study of Ethiopia's crop varieties by using latest biotechnological techniques and tools will definitely unravel genes that produce traits of enormous economic significance.

On the top of the diversity of crop varieties, Ethiopia's commercially important crops are equally diverse, namely, barley, beans, coffee, corn, cotton, peas, sesame, sugarcane, tef, various fruits and vegetables (banana, garlic, grape, lemon, mango, onions, orange, papaya, pepper, pineapple, potato, pumpkin, tomato and so on), and spices. Biotechnology has the potential to increase the quantity and the quality of the produces of these crops. These would make the introduction of modern biotechnology to the agricultural sector a smart move.

A second component of agricultural biotechnology deals with husbandry, poultry and other animal-related industries. Conventional genetic techniques have produced animals capable of producing more beef, dairy, eggs, meat and/or pork. Moreover, many nations have moved further in developing better diagnostic, treatment and prevention techniques of many devastating animal diseases. Developing dependable diagnostic, treatment and prevention techniques of animal diseases enabled some nations to control the world's dairy, beef, meat and pork industries (for example Australia, Canada, England, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States). Having better and dependable diagnostic, treatment and prevention techniques of animal diseases make those nations gain the confidence of consumers in many countries. Ethiopia, though a top-ranking nation in Africa as well as in the world in its animal population, did not benefit much from this wealth in the global market. Ethiopia has to overcome the limitations in convincing consumers all over the world that it is capable of providing quality and safe animal products. So far, Ethiopia's conventional veterinary education and research endeavours could not help it tap into the potential of its animal wealth.

As a nation gifted with enormous amount of animal resources, the development and use of modern biotechnologies shall have far-reaching contributions. The conventional veterinary education and research have to be upgraded up to the standard, and should be supported with modern biotechnologies to utilize the potential of the enormous animal resources. Modern biotechnologies would help develop better and dependable diagnostic, treatment and prevention methods of tropical and rift valley animal diseases that scare consumers. Agricultural biotechnology will, likewise, promote other industries that require agricultural raw materials, including food processing, biofuels, textile, paper and pulp, and other bioprocessing industries.

Biotechnology in industry/ manufacturing

Biotechnology leads to the development of new fields of industry and manufacturing with additional qualities that challenge the existing conventional ones to go through fundamental changes. (17) Bioprocessing--a range of advanced manufacturing techniques that employ chemical, physical and biological processes using living organisms or their cellular components--is believed to meet the demand for new and improved commercial products. Integration of modern biotechnology into the existing industries and/or development of new ones that integrate the latest biotechnological techniques would, then, become a priority.

Ethiopia pursues agriculture-led industrialization strategy. Supporting the agricultural sector with biotechnology ultimately assists the industrialization process. Biotechnologies can have multifaceted benefits in food and beverage, leather and textile, paper and fibre, and plastic and chemical industries. The use of biological processes and products in these and similar industries promotes safety standards and increases the quality of their products. Biotechnology can provide products with uniquely desirable features and new production opportunities for a wide range of commodities. For example, in food and beverage industries, biotechnology can help create functional foods and nutriceuticals that provide health benefits beyond simple dietary requirements. (26) In this case, the Dutch company Health and Performance Food International has begun some work on the gluten-free Ethiopian crop tef. (27) Many conventional manufacturing industries are known for using highly polluting chemicals. Integration of biotechnological components into these industries, thus, helps avoid the use of highly polluting and expensive chemical inputs, reducing the cost that can be incurred to purchase expensive chemical inputs, clean polluted areas, dispose dangerous wastes and cover compensation and insurance expenses. Therefore, modern biotechnology boosts the profit, thus increasing the competitiveness of the industries.

The potential of biotechnology and the increased global demand for industrial and manufacturing products compel the sector to incorporate biotechnological components. Existing conventional industries need to be upgraded with biotechnology. Apparently, the Ethiopian industry/manufacturing sector is in its infantile stage. If Ethiopia introduces modern biotechnology quickly and develops it aggressively to support the industrial/ manufacturing sector, there is a good deal of chance that the limitations in the development of the sector can be turned around into an advantage.

Biotechnology in health and medicine

Providing better health-care system to citizens is one of the priorities of any responsible government. Similarly, access to affordable health-care system becomes one of the most fundamental issues that draw the interest of the general public. Ethiopia's health-care system is taking shape very lately. The current national health policy takes prevention measures as a central task to promote the health and well-being of citizens. However, public demand for advanced health-care system is showing considerable growth. Ethiopia's promising economic development will apparently lead to steady increase in public demand for better health-care system. As the living standards and the consciousness of citizens grow, prevention methods become part of their culture, and the tasks of governments (local, state and/or federal) will primarily become to incorporate these prevention measures into health-care codes. Thus, the national health-care policy will shift its central focus towards diagnostic and treatment measures.

A shift from prevention-centred health-care policy to diagnostic/treatment-centred one requires a dependable progress in diagnostic, drug development and treatment techniques and knowledge base. Appropriate capacity-building activities are urgently needed in these areas. Until commendable progress in diagnostic, drug development and treatment techniques are made, Ethiopia will keep losing enormous amount of wealth to foreign markets.

Research works at the EHNRI concentrate in epidemiology and diagnostic techniques of infectious diseases. Despite the fact that initiatives to equip EHNRI with modern biotechnology facilities are underway, it would be far-fetched to believe that it will soon get into medical/pharmaceutical biotechnology R&D. The same would be true with AHRI. The Department of Drug Research at the EHNRI studies traditional medicinal plants for pharmacogenic activities. Even though it has developed anti-bacteria, anti-fungi, anti-pain, anti-inflammation, anti-malaria and anti-helimentis drugs, as well as medications for few chronic diseases (asthma, headache, stomach ache), it did never conduct clinical trials. In fact, there are no rules and regulation in the country to manage such kinds of activities.

Ethiopia's few medical and pharmacy schools carry out basic research in health-related topics. However, they do not prepare R&D personnel in the development of drugs and treatment techniques. Other than the limited activities at the Aklilu Lemma Institute of Pathobiology (AAU), the only relevant work being done is the isolation and characterization of active ingredients of some traditional medicinal plants by researchers in the faculties of Science and Medicine at the AAU. These show that the important components of Ethiopia's healthcare system, that is, health-related R&D, received very limited focus for so long. However, it is becoming apparent that the need for capacity building in the development of drugs and treatment techniques will be overwhelming in the near future.

As citizens' need for advanced health-care system become overwhelming, paramount progress must be made in conventional drug development, diagnosis, treatment and prevention methods and techniques. Supporting future efforts of developing conventional medical/pharmaceutical industries with biomedical/biopharmaceutical methods, tools and know-how would be commendable. Biotechnology in the health care and medical sector plays a pivotal role in advancing the understanding of health and diseases, thus helping develop superior approaches of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases.

Ethiopia's quest to advance the health-care system, where dependable diagnosis, treatment and prevention methods become amply available, can be facilitated through introducing and developing modern biotechnology. From the perspective of the interest of tropical communities, including Ethiopia, biotechnology can be the new frontier in the pursuit for better diagnosis, treatment and prevention of tropical infectious diseases of humans and animals that defied conventional methods, like malaria, Leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, tuberculosis, contagious bovine and caprine pleuropneumonia, foot-and-mouth disease, and rinderpest.

Biotechnology in environmental management and rehabilitation

The fundamental problems with Ethiopia's environmental management efforts are (a) a lack of comprehensive codes of management and a sustainable use of natural resources; and (b) limitations in enforcing the existing regulations and directives. These problems, coupled with global climate change, led to severe farmland degradation, erosion and loss of biological diversity (thus genetic diversity), deforestation, salinization and pollution. With these in mind, the potential of biotechnology in assisting environmental management and reclamation are underlined.

Farmland degradation (as a result of excessive use for generations and erosion) becomes one of the most chronic environmental problems. Population and economic pressures make traditional farmland rehabilitation methods (for example agroforestry, crop rotation, fallowing) difficult. Biotechnology techniques and tools have the potential to create crops that grow in less fertile soils and produce maximum yield. Thus, it can indirectly give room to rehabilitate lands through traditional and conventional methods.

Biotechnology is directly used in environmental rehabilitation/reclamation through bioremediation. Bioremediation involves the use of organisms and/or their products to degrade toxic wastes into less toxic or non-toxic products, concentrate and immobilize toxic elements and/or ions, minimize industrial wastes, and clean polluted areas. (17) For instance, phytoremediation (such as detoxifying pollutants in the soil and absorbing and accumulating soil pollutants) is an important technique of soil reclamation. Extensive use of agrochemicals (fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and nematocides) and industrial chemicals will sooner or later pollute Ethiopian soils, rivers and lakes. This will demand the adoption of safer, easier and cheaper rehabilitation/ remediation techniques. Developments of noble weeds by using biotechnology can be the best candidates for this purpose. Therefore, there is more reason to argue for the urgency of introducing and developing biotechnology.

Lately, irrigation is taking vital role in achieving food security and agriculture-led industrialization efforts in Ethiopia. As a country with a vast area of irrigable land and plenty of freshwater, irrigation will obviously become the major contributor to Ethiopia's economy. Large acres of land will be irrigated in the near future. However, salinization (accumulation of salts in the rhizosphere) is an inevitable problem in irrigable tropical lands. And, it will become a colossal national problem sooner or later. Taking a glimpse at the problem of soil salinization and the cost of its reclamation in Amibara (Middle Awash) is sufficient to help one understand the magnitude of the problem.

The conventional method of reclamation employed in Amibara, about a decade ago, involved burying several thousand miles of perforated tubes (of different diameters) in large acres of salinized farmland and flooding it with water from the Awash River. This method helps wash the soil at the rhizosphere off the salts. The water carrying the washed salt is collected into smaller tubes through the perforations. It is then collected into larger tubes and discharged back into the Awash River. The cost of this undertaking, leaving aside the damage done to this important River, was exceedingly enormous. Genetic engineering techniques can be provided with miracle weeds that can absorb the salt ions within a single growing season.

Repeated use of fertilizers can also alter the pH of the soil. Altering soil pH, in turn, initiates the release of toxic ions into the soil solution. Biotechnology has the potential of creating noble weeds or crops that can absorb toxic ions and other pollutants, and can reclaim soils.

Biotechnology can also contribute much in the national efforts of reforestation. Since the early 1990s, researchers at the AAU have developed asexual and micropropagation methods of economically and ecologically important endemic tree species of Ethiopia. Arguably, a more viable strategy to succeed in this effort is to create a commercial driving force--commercial forestry. In this ecologically favourable country, commercial forestry could become one of the major economic engines. Some developments are underway to introduce commercial forestry (for example Alage Forestry Development and Utilization PLC, Mekelle Tissue Culture and Micropropagation Lab). Commercial forestry would serve as a driving force for initiating innovative micropropagation and plant tissue culture research. Modern biotechnology can help the national reforestation efforts, and promote commercial forestry using latest techniques and tools.

As the potential benefits of biotechnology in the priority sectors were discussed in the preceding paragraphs, it was apparent that the prime objective of introducing and developing modern biotechnology is to utilize the biological and genetic diversity for the well-being of citizens. The utilization of biological and genetic resources to ensure the well-being of citizens, in turn, requires making inventory of the resources, so that it will be used in a sustainable way. Currently, the inventory goes beyond listing the biological diversity; it includes listing of genetic resources, especially the noble ones. This requires us to have a profound expertise in biotechnology. The presence of huge biological resources requires additional capability in biotechnology to exploit and make use of the resources.

STRATEGIES TO INTRODUCE AND DEVELOP BIOTECHNOLOGY

As it is shown above, Ethiopia hosts few research and teaching institutes that carry out research in biotechnology and related fields. Moreover, some universities (Addis Ababa, Gondar and Jimma) have launched biotechnology education programmes, while others are preparing to open soon (for example Mekelle Institute of Technology). However, the amount of work that involves advanced biotechnology tools and techniques is quite limited. At the institutional level, two reasons are apparent for this limitation: (a) lack of experts in the area; and (b) lack of facilities, equipments, tools and supplies.

Had the research and teaching institutes been coordinated, they could have played a pivotal role in realizing Ethiopia's quest to develop biotechnology. In fact, many researchers agree that the actual national capacity to exploit biotechnology for socioeconomic development is much greater than in many African nations (Personal communications with researchers in AHRI, EARO and EHNRI). Unfortunately, no substantial effort has been made so far to bring personnel from these institutes together to figure out successful strategies that would assist Ethiopia in tapping into the potential of biotechnology in the various socio-economic sectors. Two exceptions were the establishment of the National Bioscience Consortium (NBC) and the National Biosciences Steering Committee (NBSC) in 2005. (28) The NBC and NBSC were meant to oversee the overall Ethiopian biotechnology R&D, and build mechanisms for effective collaborations to promote national capacity. Unfortunately, these efforts went little beyond hosting two committee-meeting sessions.

The political will of the Government to introduce and develop modern biotechnology is quite apparent. However, the political support to develop this is not strong enough. For example, it is not as strong as the support it is providing to introduce, expand and develop information and communication technology. The most important shortfall in this regard is the lack of comprehensive biotechnology policy and strategy, and other policies, laws and regulations that promote the introduction and development of the sector safely, as well as the application and use of its R&D products. Such policies, strategies, laws and regulations would guide the various institutes to coordinate their activities. They would also help each institute to figure out how to address its limitations and contribute its share.

This unsatisfactory national status amid the swiftly advancing global developments obliges us to argue against any reluctance to introduce and aggressively develop biotechnology. Below, the most important topics addressed in introducing and developing modern biotechnology in Ethiopia are identified and discussed. These are (a) promoting biotechnology education and R&D; (b) commercialising the outcomes of biotechnology R&D; (c) putting regulatory mechanisms (rules, ethical issues, safety standards and so on) to utilize biotechnology; and (d) popularising biotechnology (professional associations, publications). Until a comprehensive national direction to introduce and develop the sector is in place, the topics addressed here could serve as guidelines for teaching and research institutions engaged in biotechnology and life sciences.

Promoting biotechnology education and R&D

The 2002 FDRE Biotechnology Policy and Strategy proposed the development and expansion of education and R&D. Apparently, developing biotechnology into a major economic sector depends primarily on the national capacity to establish and carry out quality education and training programmes, and conduct intensive basic and applied research in the life sciences, biotechnology and related fields. Turning biotechnology from an academic discipline into an industry is a multidisciplinary endeavour. It would require the development of ingenious strategy to bring experts from various disciplines to work together towards a common goal. Thus, Ethiopia's biotechnology education and R&D programmes have to be planned and carved out accordingly. A good national biotechnology policy and strategy document (for Ethiopia) should provide mechanisms of promoting biotechnology education and R&D.

(a) Opening new and strengthening existing programmes in biotechnology, life sciences and related natural science disciplines in the universities. The birth of biotechnology as an academic discipline and an economic sector depended on advancements in the life sciences, chemistry and information communication technology. Thus, although opening new programmes in biotechnology and applied science fields becomes essential, strengthening the existing programmes in the traditional and applied science disciplines is of paramount importance. As the distance between basic and applied biotechnology research is very short, empowering teaching and research institutions to carry out basic research is doing half of the business. Therefore, a major overhaul needs to be done to strengthen the capacities of Ethiopian universities and colleges. Policy provisions and strategies have to identify means of realizing this objective. Likewise, the primary and secondary science education systems have to be examined, so that improvements that would yield excellent foundation for life science programmes in the universities are made.

(b) Creating an enabling environment to encourage faculties in the universities to carry out extensive bask and applied research in biotechnology, life sciences and related natural science disciplines. Techniques and tools generated through basic research in life sciences (for example genetics, cell and molecular biology, biochemistry) led to the birth of biotechnology as an academic discipline and industry. Biotechnology is inherently a research-intensive field. Tapping into the potential of this industry necessitates the presence of well-experienced and well-trained researchers. Hence, extensive capacity-building activities through formal and informal professional development schemes like graduate education, research assistantships and scholarships, research and sabbatical leaves, research teams, research awards and job opportunities are needed. The success of these kinds of schemes depends upon the availability of adequate provisions in terms of funds, research and travel grants and R&D facilities, as well as efficient bureaucracy. Policy directions have to be developed in such a way that the Government (state, federal), the private sector and not-for-profit organizations are involved in financing these efforts.

(c) Upgrading Ethiopia's teaching and research institutions into RED institutions and establishing new ones. The potential of biotechnology can only be exploited through well-developed R&D system. The development of biotechnology R&D, in turn, depends on availability of sufficient funding and its efficient utilization, human resource development in terms of quality and quantity and utilization of biological resources for industrial and research purposes. Ethiopia has few research (and teaching) institutes governed by the federal/state governments and their affiliations, namely, AHRI, ALIPB, EARO (and the agricultural research institutes of the regional states), EHNRI and NVRI.

Despite the fact that several Ethiopians conduct graduate and professional development research in these institutions each year, the institutions are usually under funded. They are incapable of hosting extensive research and retaining experienced researchers. One of the primary initiatives the Government should pursue to develop the biotechnology sector is upgrading the existing research facilities. Policy frameworks and strategy guidelines to upgrade the institutes have to aim at attracting and retaining veteran researchers through creating enabling environment in terms of facilities, payments and incentives. Income generation schemes, linkage programmes with private product developers and research institute-industry partnerships that would support the institutes to become centres of R&D in biotechnology and life sciences have to be sought and implemented.

With only five research institutes, cognizant of the potential of the universities and colleges, Ethiopia is handicapped to develop biotechnology as a tool for national economic development. To realize its immense potential to exploit biotechnology and the life sciences requires the opening of many new R&D parks. Ethiopia can only tap into its potential biological and genetic diversity, as well as indigenous knowledge of biological diversity, through having several additional R&D institutions.

Commercializing/industrializing the outcomes of biotechnology R&D

Robust biotechnology education and R&D programmes would not bear fruit unless the outcomes are commercialized. The outcomes of the Ethiopian research and teaching institutions are disseminated to end users (subsistence, mixed and small-scale farmers, cooperatives, livestock owners in pastoral communities and so on) for free or at marginal costs. It is, thus, understandable that why the research institutions are not well developed. Hopefully, recent developments in biofuel (castor, jatropha, oil palm and sugarcane), chemical (cactus, rose and vernonia), flower and food (tef) industries in the country will promote the development of commercial biotechnology.

The impressive advances in genetics, and cellular and molecular biology, biochemistry and other life science fields are driven by the potential of commercialization of their R&D outcomes. Industrial applications of research outcomes (that is products, techniques and tools) in the development of new drugs, vitamins and nutricicals, vaccines and so on become the driving forces for the advancement of biotechnology and life sciences. Looking into the issue of commercializing R&D outcomes from the Ethiopian perspective would reveal quite a unique situation. If concerted effort is made, excelling in biotechnology and life sciences as academic exercise can be achieved within 5-10 years. Nonetheless, the development of Ethiopia's industrial sector to the level of exploiting R&D outcomes may not go at the same pace. Thus, under the Ethiopian situation, the developments of biotechnology as an academic field and as an industrial sector have to be pursued side by side. Moreover, as prospecting a given biotechnology R&D outcome requires long and rigorous work under uniquely challenging circumstances, domestic industries (present or future) may shy away from being involved. Provisions of various incentives (for example loans, development funds, tax holidays and co-funding of R&D, clinical tests and field trials) by the Government to encourage the involvement of the private sector would be required.

Meanwhile, government agencies (for example the ministries of Agriculture, Health, Science and Technology, and Trade and Industry) have to be involved in prospecting R&D outcomes to produce seeds with desirable qualities, drugs, human and animal vaccines, and techniques and tools. This approach has produced exemplary results in Cuba. (3) Likewise, efforts have to be made to attract foreign biotechnology firms. In this case, in addition to incentives and provisions, the presence of facilitating laws, regulations and directions is very important. The initiation and success of partnerships between domestic R&D institutions and foreign companies depend heavily upon the presence of laws, regulations and directions emanating from relevant international conventions, protocols and treaties.

Regulating biotechnology activities

Inherently, biotechnology is one of the academic disciplines and economic sectors that touch every aspect of human experience and the environment. R&D in biotechnology both in academic institutions and industries has to adhere to the highest legal and ethical standards to safeguard human health and the environment. Nations and their R&D institutions that made impressive leaps in biotechnology have put enabling regulatory mechanisms. In general, regulatory mechanisms are enacted through having (a) policy frameworks and strategy guidelines; (b) rules and regulations; and (c) regulatory authority (authorities).

(a) Developing comprehensive national biotechnology policy and strategy. A very brief national biotechnology policy and strategy was produced in 2002. Owing to the great potential of biotechnology for Ethiopia's economic development and its complexity, the document was not comprehensive. Moreover, it did not look like the document had passed through rigorous expert evaluation or public debate. Thus, the development of a comprehensive national biotechnology policy and strategy in consultation with scientists, researchers, legal experts and the public becomes indispensable. Some of the fundamentals that have to be addressed in the course of developing biotechnology policy and strategy are evaluating the national status, identifying national priorities, strengths and potential, providing means of promoting national competencies, and tuning national priorities to agree to global trends.

(b) Developing enabling rules and regulations of biotechnology. Biotechnology touches cultural, economic, environmental, ethical, health and safety, intellectual property and patent, political, and trade matters. Rules and regulations employed to govern biotechnology (as an academic field and industrial sector), likewise, touches these matters. Moreover, the rules and regulations governing the biotechnology sector of a given nation cannot be developed in isolation. They are required to agree to international conventions, protocols and treaties related to biodiversity, biosafety, bioethics, environment, trade, as well as scientific ethics and principles. Although Ethiopia has enthusiastically participated in the development and ratification of several international and regional conventions and protocols pertinent to environment, biodiversity conservation and biosafety, it did not yet ratified a national regulatory system related to biotechnology. The preparation of the NBF that was supposed to facilitate the realization of National Biosafety Law took 5 years to complete (September 2002--August 2007).9 The NBF has placed draft National Biosafety Law in its annex, but no new developments have come since then. The institutes undertaking biotechnology activities do not have internal regulatory mechanisms to ensure biosafety. As Ethiopia is unacceptably lagging behind in the biotechnology sector, learning from the experiences of other nations through partnerships, linkage programmes and other schemes becomes indispensable. This would hardly be possible without having rules and regulations that uphold the principles of international conventions, protocols and treaties related to biotechnology and life sciences. Like policy and strategy guidelines, regulatory frameworks (laws, rules, regulations) help education and R&D institutions, as well as biotechnology firms produce ethical and good practice guidelines. Hence, enabling rules and regulations for governing biotechnology that take all these issues into account have to be in place as soon as possible.

(c) Establishing national biotechnology regulatory authority/authorities. As biotechnology is a very complex field of R&D and industry, the presence of exceptionally capable regulatory authority/authorities becomes essential. The regulatory authority/ authorities should be established in such a way that it is/they are capable of overseeing the activities of biotechnology in teaching and research, R&D institutions and industries. The regulatory authority/ authorities must be equipped with diversity of experienced biotechnology and life science experts; legal experts in pertinent national codes, international conventions and treaties, intellectual property and patent issues and indigenous community rights; and advanced facilities provided with necessary protocols, tools and techniques. According to the draft NBF and its annexed draft National Biosafety Law, all the regulatory activities related to the activities of GMOs and product thereof (R&D, import, export, transit, handling, contained use, transport, placing on the market, use as a pharmaceutical for humans or animals, use as food, feed or for processing) will be handed over to the Federal Environmental Protection Authority. (9) Nonetheless, as is the case in other nations, and as the borders of modern biotechnology extend far beyond GMOs, various agencies should be involved in the regulatory processes, where each agency specializes in a given area. For instance, while the FDRE Ministry of Health could regulate biotechnology activities related to human health and safety, the Ministry of Agriculture can regulate activities related to plant/crop biotechnology and animal health and safety. Likewise, the Ministries of Trade and Industry, Justice, and Science and Technology, as well as the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation, the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office, and the Quality and Standards Authority of Ethiopia, are relevant government bodies that may be involved in regulatory processes. In this case, it has to be apparent that government regulatory agencies have to undergo major capacity-building schemes to shoulder the tasks.

Popularising biotechnology

As is evidently the case with various technologies, biotechnology raised several cultural, economic, environmental, ethical, political and social concerns. In fact, the scale of the debates about the issues of biotechnology is much greater compared to that of other technologies. Nonetheless, it should not be assumed that all biotechnologies are under equal treatment by the general public. For instance, in Europe, while medical and pharmaceutical biotechnologies are welcomed, food and agricultural biotechnologies receive very tight scrutiny. It is argued that as Europeans increased agricultural production and productivity through other conventional methods, modern agricultural biotechnology adds little value; they do not have enough reason to promote it. This situation became a favourable ground for anti-GMO environmental activists to propagate unscientific opinions about biotechnology altogether unabated. On the other hand, as medical and pharmaceutical biotechnologies are potentially life saving, they are warmly being welcomed. (29)

Considering Ethiopia's priorities (food security and self-sufficiency) and capacities (there are more scientists in agriculture, life sciences and related fields), it has to invest in agricultural biotechnology. Unfortunately, Europe's negative public attitude towards agricultural biotechnology is spilling over to Africa, and in fact to Ethiopia. This attitude and Europe's another hurdle to promoting biotechnology, that is, the precautionary principle, are making Africans afraid of the technology altogether. As medical/pharmaceutical biotechnologies are priorities to Europeans, agricultural biotechnologies are priorities to Africans. Thus, popularising biotechnology in collaboration with all stakeholders (for example scientists, consumers, interest and consumer groups, farmers, industry owners, politicians and professional associations) becomes essential. The prime objective of popularising biotechnology must aim at gaining public trust in the technology, so that the public plays positive role in its advancement. Popularization of biotechnology is attained through (a) empowering policy-makers and regulators; (b) publicizing the development of the biotech sector periodically; (c) promoting the establishment of professional associations; and (d) networking stakeholders of biotechnology. Cognizant of the possibilities of having other mechanisms of popularising biotechnology, some details are given about the aforementioned strategies. Policies and strategies have to identify mechanisms of attaining the following goals:

(a) Empowering public authorities and institutes. Authorities and institutes involved in disseminating, governing and regulating biotechnology, including ministries (agriculture, health, justice, science and technology, trade and industry), agencies, authorities, institutions (biodiversity conservation, customs, environmental protection, intellectual property, quality and standardization), research institutions (AHRI, ALIPB, EARO, EHNRI and NVRI), and universities and colleges fall under public authorities and institutes. These authorities and institutes should be empowered (with knowledgeable and skilled expertise and facilities) in such a way that their practices earn them good public trust to carry out biotechnology activities. As the general public is assured that the biotechnology business (education, research, development, commercialization and so on) is at the hands of capable bodies, its contributions to develop and disseminate the technology become greater.

(b) Communicating biotechnology affairs. As biotechnology affects all issues of human experience and the environment, communicating its benefits, potential, risks and uncertainties is vital. There would be different modes of communication among different groups, such as professionals (scientific journals, technical texts), diverse interest groups (dialogues, public debates, position statements and so on) and the public (print and online media, radio, TV, documentary movies). Whatever modes of communication one chooses and groups of people one has, the communications, debates and dialogues about biotechnology and life sciences have to be science-based, while upholding all cultural and ethical values.

(c) Establishing professional associations. European biotechnology affairs are negatively influencing the introduction and development of modern biotechnology in Africa. Alarmist European environmental activists have succeeded in convincing several African leaders and prominent environmental scientists to reject GMOs and become sceptical of the potential of modern biotechnology and life sciences altogether. A couple of African leaders picked headline news for rejecting GM corn while their citizens were starving. (30) Apparently, the African biotechnology turf is under the influence of European environmental activists and native sceptics. It is difficult to claim that the situation in Ethiopia is different from that of other countries in Africa. This requires us to establish biotechnology associations that comprise resource persons who can (a) provide the public with credible, science-based information; (b) serve as policy, strategy and scientific advisors to the Government; and (c) counter the destructive activities of anti-GMOs environmental activists.

(d) Networking stakeholders of biotechnology. National and regional stakeholders of biotechnology (the public, the public authorities, education and R&D institutions, interest groups, professional associations, regional bioscience networks and biotechnology industry owners) need to create networks of information dissemination and dialogue. As networking facilitates the sharing of information and ideas among groups of varied expertise, unscientific ideas would less likely reach the general public and consumer groups. Networking would bring the scientific community together to promote the technology and refute sensational anti-GMOs cant. Hence, the need for the networking of stakeholders of biotechnology and life sciences becomes apparent.

CONCLUSION

Biotechnology is emerging as an important economic engine, bringing new opportunities with the potential of solving the impacts of previous conventional industries (environmental degradation, loss of biological diversity, pollution and so on) and present and future problems (shortage of fossil fuel, food and feed, industrial raw materials and so on). With the exception of Africa, nations in the rest of the world are investing a lot to utilize the sector, where many of them are garnering the results of their investments.

This article has provided compelling reasons to introduce and develop biotechnology in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, there is one important issue that should be stressed. Many of the risks and uncertainties obstructing Africa (and Ethiopia) to introduce and develop biotechnology are neither unique to Africa nor avoidable by closing doors. They can only be controlled, minimized or avoided by introducing and assertively developing the sector. Also, many of the alternatives being proposed (for example organic farming) to solve current and future problems like food shortage would not be sufficient.

A document by the National Research Council entitled 'Global Challenges and Directions for Agricultural Biotechnology' noted, ' ... both the advocates of biotechnology and those who are violently opposed to it may be sponsored by external sources' (p. 29), recommending the involvement of the local people most affected by the proposals. (31) As biotechnology is as important as other sectors that affect Ethiopia's independence, the issues pertinent to it have to be dealt with accordingly. Moreover, as every nation develops biotechnology to address its unique set of problems and priorities, and exploit unique set of potential and resources, other nations' achievements would only have very limited contribution to Ethiopia. Hence, the national capacity has to be organized to figure out mechanisms of developing the biotechnology sector by focusing on national priorities, resources, potential and problems to promote national development. In the mean time, existing and new education and research institutes must take measures to advance biotechnology and life sciences.

Received (in revised form): 23rd June 2009

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Desta Berhe Sbhatu has worked as a secondary school teacher for 5 years (teaching biology and physical and earth sciences) and a college lecturer (of biology and science education) for another 5 years. Moreover, he has served as Department Head and Academic Vice Dean. He earned his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Biology and a PhD in Science Education. Currently, he is the department head of Biological and Chemical Engineering at Mekelle Institute of Technology, developing undergraduate biological and chemical engineering and graduate biotechnology education and R&D programmes, to be launched starting mid-2009.

Correspondence: Desta Berhe Sbhatu

Department of Biological and Chemical Engineering, Mekelle Institute of Technology, YO Box 1632, Mekelle, Ethiopia
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Date:Jan 1, 2010
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